Sunday, 29 July 2012

somewhere over the rainbow

Yesterday I did a ten-hour round trip from Bolzano to Munich to collect the founder of the EUYO from the airport. On the way back we met a storm - and then this spectacular double rainbow.

Friday, 27 July 2012

bowled over by bolzano

I must admit, I was dreading my journey to Bolzano. With an 8am plane to catch, followed by a bus and then numerous hours sat on a train, I had resolved to sleep through the struggle. My attention was soon diverted, however, by a magnificent sight:  vineyards. Miles upon miles of the things. They surrounded me on both sides of the train, and sprawled right the way across to the Alps. As I contemplated the weeks of wine-filled merriment that lay ahead, suddenly I didn’t seem so tired anymore…

The prospect of a bountiful stay didn’t end there. When we arrived at the hotel, another member of staff said, “I need a spritz.” I suggested we met back in reception after a quick shower, and my ignorance was promptly set straight. Here, a spritz has nothing to do with freshening up. Rather, a spritz is a concoction of Aperol, Prosecco and soda water, garish orange in colour and wonderfully easy to drink. The shower could certainly wait; this was heaven.

Piazza Walther: the perfect Spritz-sipping spot

And it didn’t stop there. Dinner was a luscious spread of tomato-laden bruschetta, monstrous mounds of buffalo mozzarella, perfectly sweet melon and parma ham, and spaghetti with seafood (or rather seafood with spaghetti, given the amount of critters gracing my plate). When I asked for parmesan to accompany the spaghetti, I was reprimanded by my waiter, who firmly contested that I eat it without. He was absolutely right. I struggled to suppress gasps of glee at every bite. Rolling into bed, I made a mental note to pace myself – I have six weeks of such meals ahead – and blissfully nodded off.

The following morning, before I had time to remember this intended self-control, I had somehow managed to pile my plate high with Apfelstrudel, Sachertorte, plum cakes, and mounds of fresh berries. A ridiculously rich chocolate concoction also appeared to have found its way into my cup. Rather than dwell on this mysterious appearance, I gave in. I couldn’t let such delicious treats go to waste now, could I?

Remembering that I risked looking like the plump, juicy tomatoes I was gorging on (not to mention the 35-degree heat outside), I resolved to walk off the indulgence. Bolzano is a charming, compact town, filled with cobbled lanes lined with alfresco cafes, individual boutiques and market stalls – as well as plenty of gelaterias and pasticcherias that threatened to thwart my virtuous efforts. A considerable amount of personal strength was required to overcome to urge to purchase basketfuls of pretty chocolates, bags of dried fruit and nuts, and even a cake made of gummy bears. Fortunately, I managed to distract myself momentarily with quirky hat and shoe displays and a boutique selling beautiful traditional Dirndln.

Market stalls, pretty cafes and boutiques

Gummi bear cakes, huge chocolate shops, Bolzano's Hotel Sacher outpost, inviting assortments of cakes...

Another gratuitous observation provided the perfect excuse I needed to carry on chowing down cakes, cannoli and other confections – Bolzano is a town beloved by bikers. Tomorrow I’m going to collect one to hire and, hopefully, burn off some bruschetta whilst exploring some more. But in the meantime, I’ve got a spaghetti supper awaiting me downstairs…

Sunday, 22 July 2012


We came to Agadir in rather desperate need of sun. Fleeing flood warnings and the wet-weather weariness of home, as soon as we arrived at the hotel, we bypassed the staff’s endeavours to make our experience as leisurely and relaxed as possible – instead, we gulped down our glasses of mint tea, whizzed upstairs to our room and threw on our swimsuits before running to the beach as only those who have been deprived of sunshine for months on end can. Two hours later we returned, utterly frazzled and red as lobsters, but blissfully happy. This sun would be ours for the whole week, and we weren’t going to let a single ray of it go to waste.

Our hotel was situated at the far end of the Corniche, a long promenade along the beach lined with shops and (rather touristy) restaurants. Buoyed by the warm evening sunset, on our first evening we decided to walk the entire length of it to find a restaurant for dinner (our exploratory enthusiasm gradually waned over the duration of the stay and these sunset strolls were soon replaced by twilight taxi trips to our restaurants of choice). We ended up in the marina, apparently the trendier part of town, where we feasted on fresh fish followed by a cocktail in a café perfect for people-watching. Our return walk to the hotel was full of romantic promise: barefoot paddling in the sea, a backdrop of a hill lit up with its ‘Allah, the Nation, the King’ words, the prospect of a stress-free week together in glorious sunshine. Unfortunately, this hope was promptly extinguished as all lights were switched off at midnight and we were left to our own devices to return to our secluded hotel. No matter: seaside snuggles were replaced with apprehensive huddles as we clung to one another and attempted to find our way back through the darkness.

Back at the hotel, my boyfriend amused himself watching the Arab music channel (think women on horses and slightly overweight men smiling endlessly in a rather unsettling manner), whilst I explored the room’s offerings (a tray full of macarons! A pillow menu! A bed wider than it is long!). Soon the dreamy atmosphere overcame us, and we drifted off for hours on end.

Breakfast was an opulent spread of traditional Moroccan food and continental treats which, in our eagerness to drink every last drop of sunshine, we took outside. Having noted on my previous night’s scan that our bathroom had only a screen for the toilet area, I passed on the local curry soup and instead tucked into a colossal stack of crepes freshly made by a somewhat bemused-looking chef who was perhaps used to guests whose appetites are quelled by the heat. Not us, monsieur.

Sufficiently fuelled for a strenuous day of sunbathing, we plodded off to the beach. As the sun dreamily glittered its way through the day, so days melted into one another as we passed the time snoozing, sunbathing and splashing in the sea. My boyfriend had so much fun jumping in the waves that he dislocated his shoulder, and I became so absorbed in my books that I overlooked the extent to which the sun was absorbing me. No matter, both problems were easily assuaged by the loving staff in the on-site spa and hammam, who were on hand to slap on soothing lotions and perform miraculous massages to alleviate the pains of luxury.

Whilst certain quirks about the hotel charmed us – we were hypnotised by the non-stop nodding of the guitar player in reception, and every day we were treated to a sculpture that the housekeeping staff had fashioned out of our pyjamas – we were occasionally disappointed by the slow service and inattentiveness of the staff. When we took it up with the management, we returned to a bottle of Laurent Perrier and platter of fruit awaiting us in our room. The problem was soon fizzled away and forgotten. From then on the staff were charming, always remembering our preferences, even when we’d have preferred them to forget (in a moment of health-conscious folly I asked for mint tea without sugar at breakfast one morning, and on every day that followed the same bitter broth arrived to remind me of my mistake).

Agadir is a place to relax, as its numerous restaurants and cafes geared towards visitors suggest. We tried to escape the more touristy areas and enjoy authentic meals when we could, and although we were occasionally stared at by passers-by or considered crazy by our hotel staff for wanting to visit the less salubrious districts of the city, we certainly got a taste of the local flavour in the form of gigantic tagines, mountains of cous cous, heavenly pastries and – my favourite – exceedingly sweet pastillas (pigeon-stuffed pastries topped with icing sugar and cinnamon, a sweet-tooth’s dream). My boyfriend was even daring enough to have his hair cut at a local hairdresser’s, where the barber assured us he would take extra care as he was “cutting Leonardo DiCaprio’s hair”. (The flattery still hasn’t worn off.) Nevertheless, watching the chaos of an evening unfold before us as taxis raced past and street vendors sold sizzling kebabs whilst we indulged in fresh fruit milkshakes and shisha in streetside cafés was, in our opinion, a more diverting pastime than the dubious delights of the tribute band that played in our hotel each evening.

And so we returned to a dreary, soggy England, outwardly glowing both in colour and character. Whilst our pasty compatriots poked fun at our slightly ridiculous red noses, we couldn’t have cared less. For a week we had had no work, no wet weather, and no worries. In my opinion, looking like a lobster was a small price to pay for a perfect escape.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

purse pinchers and football frenzy

Our final day in Paris was one of mixed emotions. It was the day of the Euro 2012 Germany-Netherlands clash, and Tessel, as a loyal Dutchie, was suitably attired!

We spent a lovely morning admiring Monet's Waterlilies at the Orangerie Museum and chewing our way through countless salted caramels before having lunch, lusting after glitzy ballgowns, and sharing yet another Mont Blanc (well, we were in Paris after all) at Galeries Lafayette. We then had a look around the Opera Garnier – which is absolutely stunning – and did some window shopping along the Avenue d’Opera.

And that’s when the drama started. We went inside a lovely-looking chocolaterie and after sampling their heavenly marshmallows I decided to bring some back as a present for my mum. But when I went to pay, someone had taken my purse from my bag. To be honest, cancelling the cards and reporting the theft at the police station wasn’t too stressful. More than anything, I found it rather unsettling that someone had rummaged through my bag without me even noticing, and deeply frustrating that I had lost so many cards that were important to me but of no use to anyone else – my university card, for example, and gift vouchers that could only be spent in England. I’m still going through the process of getting everything replaced, and it wasn’t even worth making an insurance claim as there would have been too high an excess to pay. Sadly, I’ll just have to put this down to experience and be more careful when travelling in future. It was a horrible way to end such a wonderful stay, but I won’t let one person’s dishonesty ruin my trip – despite feeling a little disheartened, my memories of Paris are still absolutely fantastic.

Having spoken my best French at the police station (thank goodness I am studying a languages degree!), a stiff drink was most certainly in order! We took shelter from torrential rain at a traditional French bar before moving on to a Dutch pub to watch the game. Unfortunately, neither of us had anticipated quite how many loyal Dutch fans would be in Paris at the same time as us, and we could barely squeeze through the door. A rather amusing few minutes later, in which the pair of us, clad in orange mini-dresses, ran frantically around Paris’ nightlife district searching for a bar showing the football (in Paris, it seems these are few and far between) – to the amusement of several onlookers – we finally found a quieter place, only for The Netherlands to lose the game. I suppose luck wasn’t on our side that day!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

les princesses des patisseries

Our next day in Paris began with breakfast at Laduree amid gorgeous Chinese interiors. Their strawberry-shaped cake looked too pretty to eat, so we opted for marshmallow and almond macarons instead.

We then took a metro (where there were amazing Diamond Jubilee adverts!) to the Musee d'Orsay, where we had a brief look around but were rather overwhelmed by the sheer number of masterpieces on show! We came back to earth with a stroll along the Seine and a restorative coffee at Cafeotheque, which according to the New York Times serves the best coffee in Paris.

We then visited the Notre Dame before taking shelter from the rain in Paris's mosque, which is a peaceful haven amid the hustle and bustle of the city. We could have spent all afternoon sipping mint tea, sampling the array of homemade pastries and watching the birds fly around us...but we dragged ourselves away in order to visit Montmartre.

Unfortunately it was a rather grey, cloudy and soggy day, so the views weren't quite as magnificent - but the Moulin Rouge carried on turning all the same!

Sadly the rain carried on into the evening, so we took shelter in the shops at the Carrousel du Louvre shopping arcade (tough, I know) and comfort in the form of pretty cakes at Les Delices de Manon, before watching the Eiffel Tower light show from the romantic setting of the Jardin des Tuileries.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

macaron mademoiselles

Exams finished, I had a fabulous few days in Paris my lovely friend Tessel. As fellow lovers of all things pretty and sugary, we organised our sightseeing schedule around numerous patisserie visits, and made it our goal to discover the best macarons in the city...

First stop: McDo for a hearty breakfast of McMacarons. They were surprisingly good - cheap and cheerful, they lacked the wow factor of the more famous and fancy brands, but they nevertheless hit the spot, and we gobbled them up before doing a spot of sightseeing.

We then went for a wander around the Jardin des Tuileries and enjoyed a lovely ice cream which was crafted into a rose shape, before going for more sweet treats at Angelina, a salon de the famous for its hot chocolate and Mont Blanc...

Fed and sufficiently sugared (for the time being at least), it was time for some more sightseeing and shopping on the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe, before stopping for a cocktail on the glitzy Avenue George V.

Our final macaron stop for the day was Pierre Herme, where the flavour combinations were amazingly inventive and my sparkly pink macaron even matched my outfit (a Chanel-style tweed jacket was fitting for Paris, of course!).